Churchill Downs G2 Stephen Foster Stakes
Today we are going to take a look at the Grade 2 Stephen Foster Stakes for 4-year-olds and up going 9 furlongs over the Churchill Downs main track. This race has attracted a salty group of 8 horses, including some familiar faces as well as a few new shooters stepping up in class.
The race almost certainly goes through heavy morning line favorite #5 Tom's d'Etat. This 7-year-old warrior rarely runs a poor race, and he enters today having rattled off 7 consecutive races with 100+ Beyer speed figures. By comparison, the rest of the field has a combined 3 such races. Tom was dominant in the Oaklawn Mile while winning under a hand ride with plenty left in the tank, an effort that is even more impressive when you note that the second-place finisher Improbable came back to crush a G1 stakes at Santa Anita next out. The distance and layoff should not be any issue, as he's proven to fire fresh and loves 9 furlongs. It's slightly concerning to see regular jockey Rosario not make the trip and journeyman Miguel Mena take the mount, but that is perhaps the only knock against the favorite today.
#6 By My Standards is the second choice who figures to attract a lot of support, and this son of Goldencents has gotten better with each start since turning 4-years-old. While I have immense respect for his talent, I do feel he hasn't beaten the same caliber of competition that Tom's d'Etat has faced, and By My Standards has had 3 very favorable trips in all 3 starts this year. His tactical speed should be an asset in this race that lacks a ton of early pace, and he's a perfect 3 for 3 at the distance. With the late suspension of Gabriel Saez from a ride at Indiana Grand, Corey Lanerie will take over tomorrow. While Lanerie is certainly an excellent rider in his own right, it's always concerning to see a last minute change in a race of this magnitude.
#1 Fearless is a horse I've always believed to be immensely talented, but he's had some bad luck and invented some of his own trouble in a few of his starts so far. He was well-beaten in the G2 New Orleans Classic, but he had a poor break that day and encountered traffic numerous times while stuck behind a very slow pace over a speed-favoring course. Next out, he was stuck 18 lengths behind a slow pace and managed to rally furiously to make up 16 lengths on the winner, ultimately just running out of time. Finally, in his last race he once again was stuck far behind a slow pace yet was talented enough to circle the field and get up for the win. Velazquez needs to find a way to get this one involved a little earlier, as there isn't a ton of speed in here and it's unlikely he will be able to pull off one of his huge sweeping late moves against this level of competition. However, this one may be overlooked a bit at the window and could offer big value, especially in the exotics.
#2 Pirates Punch is the likely pacesetter in a race without a ton of other speed, which automatically makes him a threat. Draw a line through his last effort, as Lanerie gave a poor ride from a tough outside post in a race where he should have easily made the lead yet found himself stuck 4 wide in the back of the field. I expect Mike Smith to be aggressive and get him on the lead early and secure the rail, and if the other main pace threat Silver Dust elects to let Pirates Punch go, there's a real chance he could take them all the way.
#8 Owendale is a horse I've notoriously been against, and he proved me wrong in his last race when winning the Blame Stakes. However, I'm still not completely sold he is quite ready to tackle some of the best older dirt horses in the division. He will likely be bringing up the rear with Fearless and up against the flow of the race. Wouldn't be surprised to see him hit the board, but a win here would be a major upset despite his 4/1 odds.
#5 Tom's d'Etat is a strong favorite we won't try to beat, but there could be value in the exotics by getting around #6 By My Standards and #8 Owendale.
$10 Exacta 5 / 1,2
$1 Tri 5 / 1,2,6,8 / 1,2